Victims: Maude Matilda Hughey Kemper, 66, & Edmund Emil Kemper, 72 (plus eight more victims murdered during his adult years)
Age at time of initial murders: 15
Crime date: August 27, 1964
Crime location: North Fork, California
Crimes: Double murder & thrill killing
Murder method: Gunshots
Murder motivation: Thrill
Sentence: Psychiatric hospital for mentally ill convicts
Incarceration status: Incarcerated at California Medical Facility
Prior to the murders of his grandparents and the eventual murders of eight other people, Kemper had an extensive history of antisocial behavior, such as cutting his sisters’ dolls’ heads off and killing cats. His behavior became so troubling that he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents. However, Kemper’s violent behavior only increased, culminating in the murder of both his grandparents. He later admitted that he killed his grandmother “to see what it felt like” before killing his grandfather to prevent him from finding out about his wife’s murder. Kemper was placed in custody of the California Youth Authority and eventually sent to Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum-security facility for mentally ill convicts. In 1969, at age 21, he was released. Between May 1972 and April 1973, Kemper killed eight people. His victims included five college students, one highschool student, his mother, and his mother’s best friend. In addition to murdering his victims, Kemper abused their corpses: He decapitated them, had sexual intercourse with them, and dismembered them.
Who Is Edmund Kemper?
Edmund Kemper, at age 15, killed both his grandparents to “see what it felt like.” Upon release, he drifted, picking up and releasing female hitchhikers. But he soon stopped letting them go, killing six young women in the Santa Cruz, California, area in the 1970s. In 1973 he killed his mother and her friend before turning himself in.
Kemper was born on December 18, 1948, in Burbank, California, the middle child of E. E. and Clarnell Kemper. After his parents’ divorce in 1957, he moved with his mother and two sisters to Montana. Kemper had a difficult relationship with his alcoholic mother, as she was very critical of him, and he blamed her for all of his problems. When he was 10 years old, she forced him to live in the basement, away from his sisters, whom she feared he might harm in some way.
Signs of trouble began to emerge early. Kemper had a dark fantasy life, sometimes dreaming about killing his mother. He cut off the heads of his sisters’ dolls and even coerced the girls into playing a game he called “gas chamber,” in which he had them blindfold him and lead him to a chair, where he pretended to writhe in agony until he “died.” His first victims were the family cats. At ten he, buried one of them alive and the second, 13 year-old Kemper slaughtered with a knife. He went to live with his father for a time, but ended up back with his mother, who decided to send the troubled teenager to live with his paternal grandparents in North Fork, California.
Kemper hated living on his grandparents’ farm. Before going to North Fork, he had already begun learning about firearms, but his grandparents took away his rifle after he killed several birds and other small animals. On August 27, 1964, Kemper finally turned his building rage on his grandparents. The 15-year-old shot his grandmother in the kitchen after an argument, and when his grandfather returned home, Kemper went outside and shot him by his car and then hid the body.
Afterward, he called his mother, who told him to call the police and tell them what happened. Later, Kemper would say that he shot his grandmother “to see what it felt like.” He added that he had killed his grandfather so that the man wouldn’t have to find out that his wife had been murdered. For his crimes, Kemper was handed over to the California Youth Authority. He underwent a variety of tests, which determined that he had a very high IQ, but also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Kemper was eventually sent to Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum-security facility for mentally ill convicts.
In 1969, Kemper was released at the age of 21. Despite his prison doctors’ recommendation that he does not live with his mother, because of her past abuse and his psychological issues involving her, he rejoined her in Santa Cruz, California, where she had moved after ending her third marriage to take a job with the University of California. While there, Kemper attended community college for a time and worked a variety of jobs, eventually finding employment with the Department of Transportation in 1971.
Kemper had applied to become a state trooper, but he was rejected because of his size — he weighed around 300 pounds and was 6 feet 9 inches tall, which led to his nickname “Big Ed.” However, he did hang around some of the Santa Cruz police officers. One gave him a training-school badge and handcuffs, while another let him borrow a gun, according to Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman. Kemper even had a car that resembled a police cruiser.
The same year he began working for the highway department, Kemper was hit by a car while out on his motorcycle. His arm was badly injured, and he received a $15,000 settlement in the civil suit he filed against the car’s driver. Unable to work, Kemper turned his mind toward other pursuits. He noticed a large number of young women hitchhiking in the area. In the new car he bought with some of his settlement money, Kemper began storing the tools he thought he might need to fulfill his murderous desires, including a gun, a knife and handcuffs.
‘The Co-ed Killer’
At first, Kemper picked up female hitchhikers and let them go. However, when he offered a ride to two Fresno State students — Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa — they would never make it to their destination. Their families reported them missing soon thereafter, but nothing would be known of their fates until August 15, when a female head was discovered in the woods near Santa Cruz and was later identified as Pesce’s. Luchessa’s remains, however, were never found. Kemper would later explain that he stabbed and strangled Pesce before stabbing Luchessa as well. After the murders, he brought the bodies back to his apartment and removed their heads and hands. Kemper also reportedly engaged in sexual activity with their corpses.
Later that year, on September 14, 1972, Kemper picked up 15-year-old Aiko Koo, who had decided to hitchhike rather than wait for the bus to take her to a dance class. She would meet the same fate as Pesce and Luchessa.
In January 1973, Kemper continued to act on his murderous impulses, picking up hitchhiker Cindy Schall, whom he shot and killed. While his mother was out, Kemper went to her home and hid Schall’s body in his room. He dismembered her corpse there the following day and threw the parts into the ocean. Several parts were later discovered when they washed up onshore. He buried her head in his mother’s backyard.
On February 5, 1973, Kemper used a campus parking sticker his mother had given him to facilitate a double-murder. He drove to the university, where he offered a ride to two students, Rosalind Thorpe and Alice Liu. Shortly after picking them up, he shot the two young women then drove past the campus security at the gates with the two mortally wounded women in his car. After the murders, Kemper decapitated his two victims and further dismembered the bodies, removed the bullets from their heads and disposed of their parts in different locations. In March, some of Thorpe’s and Liu’s remains were discovered by hikers near Highway 1 in San Mateo County.
At the time of Kemper’s murders, two other serial killers, John Linley Frazier and Herbert Mullins were also perpetuating their own crimes in the area, resulting in Santa Cruz receiving the ignominious nickname the “Murder Capital of the World” in the press. For Kemper’s part, he was dubbed the “Co-ed Killer” and the “Co-ed Butcher.”
In April 1973, Kemper committed what would be his last two murders. On Good Friday, he went to his mother’s home, where the two had an unpleasant exchange. Kemper attacked his mother after she went to sleep, first striking her in the head with a hammer, and then cutting her throat with a knife. As he had with his other victims, he then decapitated her and cut off her hands, but then also removed her larynx and put it down the garbage disposal.
After hiding his mother’s body parts, Kemper called his mother’s, friend Sally Hallett and invited her over to the house. Kemper strangled Hallett shortly after she arrived and hid her body in a closet.
Kemper fled the area the next day, driving east until he reached Pueblo, Colorado, where on April 23 he made a call to the Santa Cruz police to confess his crimes. At first, they did not believe that the guy they knew as “Big Ed” was a killer. But during subsequent interrogations, he would lead them to all the evidence they needed to prove that he was in fact the infamous “Co-ed Killer.”
Trial and Imprisonment
Charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, Kemper went on trial for his crimes in October 1973. He was found guilty of all of the charges in early November. When asked by the judge what he thought his punishment should be, Kemper said that he should be tortured to death. He instead received eight concurrent life sentences. At present, Kemper is serving his time at California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
BY Katherine Ramsland
On August 27, 1964, 15-year-old Edmund Emil Kemper III was with his paternal grandparents on their 17-acre ranch in North Fork, California He’d gone there during the previous Christmas holidays, remaining for the rest of that school year before returning to his mother, and was now back. He wasn’t happy about that. Already six-foot-four and socially awkward, he was an intimidating figure, and people tended to shunt him from one place to another. He’d grown frustrated and angry, and later described himself as a “walking time bomb.” If only someone had known then how to defuse his rage. Instead, the people around him seemed to ensure that it would grow worse.
Kemper disliked how his mother treated him, and his grandmother was just as bad. They were always pushing him around and telling him what to do. According to his own statements, he harbored fantasies of killing and mutilating them. And not just them: As a child, writes psychiatrist Donald Lunde in Murder and Madness, Kemper wished that everyone else in the world would die, and he envisioned killing many of them himself. He had also indulged in tormenting cats. He’d buried one alive, then dug it up, cut off its head and stuck the head on a stick.
Edmund Kemper’s grand-
mother as young womanThat August afternoon, he argued in the kitchen with his sixty-six-year-old grandmother, Maude. Lunde, who interviewed him at length years later, says that he had displaced his anger at his mother onto Maude, so it did not take much to make him react. Enraged, Kemper grabbed a rifle, and when she warned him not to shoot the birds, he turned and shot her instead. He hit her in the head, writes Margaret Cheney in Why? The Serial Killer in America, killing her, and then shot her twice in the back. (Lunde says that he also stabbed her repeatedly with a kitchen knife, and David K. Frazier writes in Murder Cases of the Twentieth Century that it was three times in the back.) So his first killing, if this account is correct, was impulsive, more a thoughtless act than a planned predatory incident. But then he had to do something to hide it from his grandfather. He was a big kid for his age, the product of a six-foot mother and a father who was six-foot-eight. So he did not have much difficulty dragging his grandmother’s corpse into the bedroom.
Edmund Kemper’s grand-
father as young manBut then his grandfather, also named Edmund, drove up. The man was 72, and it was he who had given the boy the .22 caliber rifle the previous Christmas. Young Edmund heard his car outside. He went to the window and made the decision to finish the job he’d begun. As the elderly man got out of the car, Kemper raised the rifle and shot him as well. Cheney says that he then hid the body in the garage. “In his way,” writes Lunde, “he had avenged the rejection of both his father and his mother.”
Not knowing what else to do, he called his mother in Montana and told her what he had done. Clarnell urged him to call the police, and no doubt she was thinking of the dire warning that Cheney says she had given Edmund’s biological father, whose parents were now dead. She had told him not to be surprised if the boy killed them one day.
Murder Cases of the Twentieth Century: Biographies of 280 Convicted or Accused Killers.
Cheney, Margaret (1976), The Co-ed Killer
Martingale, Moira (1995), Cannibal Killers: The History of Impossible Murderers